The Latin Exemption
Have you heard about the Latin exemption?
Happiness researchers have found that a people from countries in Latin America report higher levels of happiness than their circumstances typically garner. Many of these countries have extreme poverty and governments rife with corruption and violence, yet somehow people in Latin America are able to overcome these obstacles and be happy. Other countries in the world facing similar situations in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia report much lower levels of happiness. Nobody quite understands the Latin exemption, except that it exists.
The circumstances of my life took a downward spiral this year. Our state government randomly passed a law that forced the closure of the company where my husband worked. He has been unemployed and underemployed since March. We have watched the savings we had diligently set aside for travel and an addition for our home dwindle. I have picked up part-time work and my husband finally found a good job.
The same law that caused his company to close will probably force the closure of his new company in January. The law has yet to signed by the governor and lawsuits challenging it are pending, but a pessimistic view is probably the most realistic at this point.
It’s enough to make one downright unhappy.
Except, I’m not.
I discovered the secret of the Latin exemption.
I didn’t know I did this until last weekend when everything went wrong at Jack’s birthday party. Illness, no shows, and heavy rain dampered the fun I had planned. Topping it all off, my husband was unexpected called to work, so I lost my helper for a few hours right before the party. Most of the decorations and activities needed to be outside, so there was nothing to be done but grin and bear it.
The party started off slow, but eventually the kiddos found their stride and started running silly around the house. When I saw Jack giggling, I stopped fretting and let the party be what it would be. By the end of the day, my body ached. The leftover food showed that a good portion of my work had been for nothing. I didn’t have any great pictures because the rainclouds had blocked my natural light. But as I headed for bed, I turned to my husband and said, “You know, it’s funny. Everything went wrong today, but I still had a really great time. I’m happy. Tired, but happy.”
“I know what you mean, ” he said. “I’m happy too.”
The following day this quote from the Dali Lama crossed my path:
Hardship, in forcing us to exercise greater patience and forbearance in daily life, actually makes us stronger and more robust. From the daily experience of hardship comes a greater capacity to accept difficulties without losing our sense of inner calm. Of course, I do not advocate seeking out hardship as a way of life, but merely wish to suggest that, if you relate to it constructively, it can bring greater inner strength and fortitude.
It summed up what I was feeling, but there’s more:
Besides inner peace, this challenging time has opened my heart to everyday joy. This explains the Latin exemption. When you realize that the problems you are facing are not going to go away in the foreseeable future, you realize how happiness is fundamentally a choice. No manicure, date night or vacation are on my horizon. We don’t even have job security or the comfort of knowing we’ll be able to pay our mortgage. Although we are working as hard as we can, the truth is: there is no quick fix. If we wait for things to get better to be happy, then there are no smiles forecast in our future.
This is what I learned and what the Latins already knew:
My life isn’t going to make me happy; I am going to make my life happy.
I must accept that this year is hard, but I do not accept that this year will be unhappy. And so, rather than fortifying my heart, I tear down walls and open myself up further to the world. I count my blessings with less greed than before, because I have a greater understanding of how easily those blessings could slip away. I smile because my child is smiling and life needs to be celebrated.
As it is. As it is.